Political quiz

What famous American backed La Follette in ’24, Smith in ’28, and Landon in ’36?

I can’t compete with Keith on baseball, but I believe that I have a comparably fiendish political quiz, consisting of only one question:

What famous American supported Bob La Follette for President in 1924, Al Smith in 1928, and Alf Landon in 1936?

By “famous” I mean that virtually every reader of this blog would recognize the name. By “fiendish” I mean that I don’t think I would have been able to guess the answer, had I not stumbled across it looking up another fact about the person concerned.

I’ll leave the answer to the comments. No Googling, please.

Update We have a winner! Keith B. receives a free lifetime subscription to the RBC.

Keith B. even gets the motivations mostly right: Mencken supported La Follette on character, Smith partly as a Wet but primarily, again, on character, and Landon because he hated Roosevelt. In the case of La Follette there was a secondary motivation: “Fighting Bob” opposed American entry into World War I because he hated war; Mencken also opposed it, because (as also a quarter of a century later) he wanted his beloved Germany to win.

Mencken on La Follette:

There remains then, the Wisconsin Red, with his pockets stuffed with Soviet gold. I shall vote for him unhesitatingly, and for a plain reason: he is the best man in the running, as a man. There is no ring in his nose. Nobody owns him. Nobody bosses him. Nobody even advises him. Right or wrong, he has stood on his own bottom, firmly and resolutely, since the day he was first heard of in politics, battling for his ideas in good weather and bad, facing great odds gladly, going against his followers as well as with his followers, taking his own line always and sticking to it with superb courage and resolution.

Suppose all Americans were like LaFollette? What a country it would be! No more depressing goose-stepping. No more gorillas in hysterical herds. No more trimming and trembling. Does it matter what his ideas are? Personally, I am against four-fifths of them, but what are the odds? They are, at worst, better than the ignominous platitudes of Coolidge. They are better than the evasions of Davis. Roosevelt subscribed to most of them, and yet the country survived. Whatever may be said against them, there is at least no concealment about them. LaFollette states them plainly. You may fancy them or you may dislike them, but you can’t get away from the fact that they are whooped by a man who, as politicians go among us, is almost miraculously frank, courageous, honest and first-rate.

The older I grow the less I esteem mere ideas. In politics, particularly, they are transient and unimportant. To classify men by examining them is to go back to the stupid days of conscientious Republicans and life-long Democrats. Let us leave such imbecilities to Ku Kluxers, Fundamentalists and readers of the New York Tribune. There are only men who have character and men who lack it. LaFollette has it. There is no shaking or alarming him. He is devoid of caution, policy, timidity, baseness—all immemorial qualities of the politician. He is tremendous when he is right, and he is even more tremendous when he is wrong.

The argument against him seems to follow two lines: that he is a red radical and in secret communiion with the Russians, and that he was against the late war and refused to support it. The first allegation is chiefly voiced by the Hon. Mr. Dawes, a man wholly devoid of honor. It is met by the plain fact that all the American communists are opposed to LaFollette and denounce him with great bitterness. The second charge is well-grounded. LaFollette not only voted as a Senator, against American participation in the war; he also refused flatly to change his views when he failed to prevent it.

What followed is well remembered. While the uproar lasted he was practically barred from the Senate Chamber. His colleagues, eager to escape contamination, avoided him; he was reviled from end to end of the country; all the popularity and influence he had built up by years of struggle vanished almost completely. Try to imagine any other American politician in that situation. How long would it have taken him to grab a flag and begin howling with the pack? How much would his beliefs and principles have weighed against the complete collapse of his career? I attempt no answer. I simply point to the other Senators who had been, before the declaration of war, in the same boat.

But LaFollette stuck. The stink-bombs burst around him, but still he stuck. The work of his whole life went to pieces, but still he stuck. Weak friends deserted him and old enemies prepared to finish him, but still he stuck. There is no record that he hedged an inch. No accusation, however outrageous, daunted him. No threat of disaster, personal or political, wabbled him for an instant. From beginning to end of those brave and intelligent days he held fast to his convictions, simply, tenaciously, and like a man.

I repeat my question: Suppose all Americans were like him? In particular, suppose all politicians among us were like him? Suppose trimming went out of fashion, and there were an end of skulkers, dodgers and safe men? It is too much, perhaps, to hope for, even to dream of. LaFollette will be defeated tomorrow, as he deserves to be defeated in a land of goose-steppers and rubber-stamps. The robes of Washington and Lincoln will be draped about a man who plays the game according to the American rules.

Mencken on Smith:

It is difficult to make out how any native Marylander, brought up in the tradition of this ancient commonwealth, can fail to have a friendly feeling for Al Smith in the present campaign. He represents as a man almost everything Maryland represents as a State. There is something singularly and refreshingly free, spacious, amiable, hearty, and decent about him. Brought up in poverty, and educated, in so far as he got any education at all, in the harsh school of the city streets, he has yet managed somehow to acquire what is essentially an aristocratic point of view, the habit and color of a gentleman. He is enlightened, he is high-minded, he is upright and trustworthy. What Frederick the Great said of his officers might well be said of him: he will not lie, and he cannot be bought. Not much more could be said of any man.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

41 thoughts on “Political quiz”

  1. Charles Coughlin? Catholic, initially populist, famously switched from backing the New Deal to seeing it as the Red Menace in disguise not long after FDR got in – would make sense. No idea if he backed LaFolette in 1924 (I didn’t know LaFolette ran in 1924), but it would fit with Coughlin’s early populist stance.

  2. I can see this is going to be a long thread. The person in question was way more famous than Heinlein – a fictionalized version of him is a central character in a major movie – and way more respectable than Coughlin.

    1. a fictionalized version of him is a central character in a major movie

      If this means William Randolph Hearst, it’s way too unsubtle a hint.

      1. Can’t be Hearst. He hated Smith even in the 1920s and Hearst papers endorsed Hoover in 1928.

        Mark has me stumped so far and I am refraining from Googling…:-)

        I was ready to guess Rex Tugwell but that is not famous enough…and I don’t see him as a fictionalized version of him in a movie! Could be Lindy as Lindy’s father was a Socialist Congressman.

      1. On the other hand, there is the famous movie: “All the King’s Men”. People like Lippman and Winchell weren’t polticians. So: let’s say Huey Long (though he died before the end of ’36, no?, and was himself very much preparing to run for President before he was killed).

    1. I don’t like Mencken for this, but you’ve inspired me to guess Clarence Darrow.

      1. I think it fits Mencken’s political prejudices of the day. He would have been in favor of Landon because he hated FDR. He would have been in favor of Smith because he hated Prohibition, and Smith was at least a little bit wetter than Hoover. And he wouldn’t have liked LaFollette’s socialism, but probably thought he was the only honorable man in the race; and with no chance of winning, a safe way to vent his irritation with the major party candidates.

        Of course, the movie would be Inherit the Wind, with Gene Kelly as an — interesting — choice to play the Mencken part. But I’d still guess Mencken, even without that hint.

      2. Obviously, I was precisely wrong in this. I couldn’t really imagine Mencken going in the Populist direction.

    1. i don’t think he was old enough to favor anyone in the 24 race and too young to vote in 28.

      1. Lindbergh was my first thought, but the movie hint threw me — aside from an old French film (France had its own aviators, after all), what movie has a transatlantic flier?

          1. Jimmy Stewart played him in a solid biopic. However, he was not famous when La Follette ran and can’t be the answer unless we interpret Mark to include people who became famous after they supported someone.

  3. Walter Lippmann? His politics changed from Progressive to Right over a similar period.

    1. Andy’s guess triggered an idea that I will put forward: Walter Winchell (Later played as J.J. Hunsucker by Burt Lancaster in the tremendous movie Sweet Smell of Success)

  4. I don’t know about his politics, but his life fits the timeframes given and fulfills the fictionalized movie account indirectly at least. I think he was overseas in 1924 though.

    Merian C. Cooper, producer of the original King Kong?

  5. It’s been a while since reading Daniel Okrent’s excellent book on Prohibition so I can’t recall if these men were Wets or Drys. I’m going to guess that the candidates in question were in favor of repealing or loosening certain aspects of the Volstead Act, which would devastate or weaken the bootlegging industry that Prohibition made so lucrative. Therefore, I’m going to guess none other than one Mr. Al Capone.

    1. Well, I fail–Prohibition was repealed by 1936. Maybe I can salvage my guess with yet another guess (and a wild-assed one at that!) that despite the passage of the 21st Amendment, Alf Landon supported federal legislation to restrict the sale/consumption of spirituous liquors.

  6. I’m wondering…would virtually every reader of this blog recognize Mencken’s name?
    If so, then we’re an old and over-educated bunch.

  7. Mencken’s heirs did him one better. After Drew Pearson died, The American Mercury noted that he had joined Roosevelt and Stalin in the bosom of Satan. Not Hitler and Stalin, mind you. Roosevelt and Stalin. Can’t find it on Google but feel pretty sure they said it.

  8. All right, it’s SPOILERS Mencken – but what’s up with the movie-fictionalization bit? I don’t even pretend to be able to google this – also, I want to put my ignorance out on display for all (but especially those who share it).

    1. the fictionalization of mencken was accomplished by “inheirit the wind” with, iirc, gene kelly playing the menckenesque role.

      1. Gene Kelly was a genius, but he was badly miscast in Inherit the Wind and was the one false note in an otherwise brilliant film.

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